This article is part of a three-part series introducing the idea of a post-Christian era, how it manifests itself, and why we need to respond.
The conditions of our post-Christian era are not historically unique. There have been times of widespread rejection of the Christian faith in the past; as there continue to be today. As we have seen in the previous article, the weak form of Christianity present in our culture makes it difficult for those committed Christ to live that faithfully. A radical response to our present conditions is necessary, lest we allow our culture to be the dictator of our Faith.
In this case, “radical” simply means thorough. We must respond by letting our Faith thoroughly affect every aspect of our lives; our time, our money, our relationships, our hopes, our beliefs, and our practices. Fortunately, we are not alone. We have guides from the past that can help us if we will choose to learn from them.
A Strategic Retreat
Many Christians know that we are “in this world, but not of this world”, as Jesus summarized in John 171. We know that we are in the world with a mission; to proclaim the Good News, to share Christ’s love, to serve, to forgive, and to praise the Living God. But what does it mean to be “not of this world”?
The people of God have a history of retreat. The original formation of God’s people was Abram responding to God’s call to leave his home to a new home being prepared for him2. Moses’s request to the Egyptians was not to simply free the Hebrews, but to let them go so that they can worship God3. Christ himself said to his disciples that they were chosen “out of the world”, and that for this reason, the world hates them4. Likewise, at the fall of the Roman empire, it was common for communities to remove themselves from the decadent rubble of the old empire.
These prompts for retreat are strategic in nature because they have the goal of holiness in mind; that is, being set apart for God and His purposes. Jesus’s declaration that his followers are not of this world speaks to the essence of who and what we are. John says that the world “belongs to the evil one”5. And Jesus says we do not “belong to the world”6. Therefore, being of the world is a matter of ownership and a matter of allegiance. Retreat is for the sake of ensuring ownership and allegiance is to Christ alone. Only when we are properly “in Christ”7, that is, belonging to Christ, do we have a chance to faithfully live out holiness.
The strategic retreats of the past were precisely to create the best opportunities for holiness. We need the same today.
It is no surprise that casually roaming our cultural landscape introduces barriers to holy living. The overwhelming power of our anti-Christian culture, and the technology to present itself at every moment of the day, means that we must retreat from it. Warnings like Paul’s to the Galatians that “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump of dough”8 and James’ warning that “friendship with the world is enmity with God”9 remind us that it is impossible to belong to Christ without a radical separation.
Different communities have done this in different ways. While I am not suggesting we all run for the hills and follow the Amish template, we must not let the fear of being labeled “weird” lull us into trying to be “cool” enough to keep our social status.
Perhaps we retreat from cultural influence by cutting our engagement with popular media, or taking our children out of public schools. There is a myriad of anti-Christian ideas, practices, feelings, attitudes, and worldviews that are being preached at us daily. It is naïve to think that they do not affect us in some way.
Perhaps we retreat from the things that take our time away from the things of God. We should not be letting work, school, or activities dictate our schedules; but rather allow worship and the Church community be our priorities.
Perhaps we retreat from the many luxuries and recreations available to us in the United States to keep our hearts and minds centered on the things of God.
Perhaps we retreat from companies that don’t share the values and beliefs we hold (as an employee and as a consumer).
Perhaps we retreat from our reliance on political parties to bring about the Kingdom of God. Government serves a purpose and we should be involved, but our dependence and loyalty is to Christ alone.
Perhaps we retreat from people that are downright unhealthy for our spirits and communities. There are tons of proverbs warning about bad company10 and New Testament commands to flee from evil11 and evildoers12
There are many aspects of our life that volley for our allegiance. To give ourselves and our communities a fighting chance at faithfulness, many of them must be let go.
A Life of Spiritual Discipline
A strategic retreat is simply giving ourselves the best opportunity at living out holiness. It is of little benefit without engaging in practices to build up discipline that leads to holiness. The primary focus of this site and ministry is to offer resources that assist and promote spiritual disciplines that will lead to holiness. This “spiritual formation” is the Christian life. It is our entire purpose for existence; to live, from day to day and moment to moment, relying on God to move our hearts and minds. The radical separation is for the purpose of radical discipline. “Radical”, in this case, just means thorough. We are thoroughly allowing Christ to affect our life. So we turn to the various ways in which we must let God affect our life.
First, our faith must be lived in community. We are communal beings, by nature (even the introverts), and were meant to live our commitment to Christ in community. Without the body of believers being present and active in our lives and affairs of life, we do not have the support and strength we need to live faithfully.
You may have a group of friends, or a group from church, or a group of mothers or dads, or college students, or family members that are your inner circle of Christian strength. Rely on these groups. Build on these groups. Grow in these groups. Allow the intimacy in these small communities to flourish. Live the Christian faith with these “little platoons” (as Church Colson would call them) and encourage each other to embark on the Strategic Retreat and Life of Spiritual Discipline together.
You don’t need to leave your church for these groups (unless there is a good reason to); but be The Church with these groups.
Education has been a focus of The Church for millennia. We are intelligent creatures and the faculty to think is a God-given gift to know God and the world in which He placed us. The foremost concern must be theology. We’ve seen how poorly “born again” believers know the Bible and the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith. This is a large part of why the historic Christian faith is so easily traded for a modern worldview.
But of course, for many reasons, we must know more simple things, more technical things. Reading, writing, match, mechanics, and technical skills all aid our Christian faith by giving us the skills essential to the work God have given us, as well as the spiritual disciplines we must engage in. For example, how can we be disciplined in reading the Bible if we cannot read! These skills should never be seen as divorced from their divine activity.
Likewise, we should also engage in the humanities; art, literature, history, etc. Knowing about the human race gives us a global compassion and understanding of the human race. They teach us about human nature, human problems, and human consequences. Again, engaging in the humanities should never be divorced from the divine goal of using such knowledge for the Kingdom of God.
Because most academic settings are now technical trade schools (high school, colleges, universities), the focus on learning is for professional goals (jobs/careers), not for becoming a more well-rounded individual; much less for furthering the Kingdom of God. For this reason, we recommend participation in things like Classical Education academies or homeschool, where educational goals are of a heavenly nature.
Worship is a major part of the Christian’s life. In worship we commune with God in the most direct ways. Because much Christian worship in the 21st century has been infused with contemporary music styles and convenient schedules (only on Sundays), there are a few practices that we encourage to appropriately participate in worship.
First, we recommend increasing participation with liturgical worship. For those of us who are not part of liturgical churches, this is a new venture. The reason for this recommendation is that liturgical worship encompasses modes and practices that better promote communion with God. Liturgical worship forces everyone to be a participant instead of mere spectators. Liturgical worship puts the whole body in communion with God by employing all of our senses. Liturgical worship is designed for communities. It focuses on scripture. It is thoughtful and deeply meaningful. It is accessible to all (young and old). There are excellent resources for helping us with this, and this site offers several.
Second, we encourage recapturing time itself and dedicating it for worship. The Christian calendar offers us a chance to participate with many Christian communities around the world in making our faith dictate our schedules. When we participate in the Christian calendar, we experience the drama of God’s redemption yearly and create ample time to savor it. If you are a person that deeply enjoys the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, the Christian calendar turns those holidays into seasons and prompts us to take more than a day to experience the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord.
We wouldn’t be able to live a life of spiritual discipline without engaging in spiritual disciplines that develop a life of discipline. These may seem basic, but then again, no one said the Christian life was complex or mysterious. Practices like contemplation and Bible reading are essential to transforming the heart and mind to conform to the image of Christ. Prayer gives us direct access to God and the expectation that God speaks to us as well. There are methods that have been formed throughout history to help with these practices, such as the Jesuit daily Examen, or the Benedictine Lectio Divina method of reading and praying scripture. Ascetic practices, such as fasting and general simple living, are further ways that train our minds and bodies to rely on Christ alone.
As anyone committed to a discipline — be it athletic, technical, academic, professional — must take methodical and rigorous steps to attain the results they are expecting. The Christian must also. If we just go to church and pray before we go to sleep and expect God to magically turn us into faithful individuals, we are sorely mistaken. The Christian life is discipline, the result is faithfulness.
We must also use our energy and resources in outreach. There are many, many ways to bring God’s grace and message of forgiveness to unbelievers. There are obviously mega-ministries that we can be a part of, but we should also feel empowered to reach our local communities and work independently. Evangelism and serving in our communities is simple and available. There isn’t a community in the world that cannot use agents of God’s grace and gospel.
The life of the committed Christian is no accident. We must be strategic and dedicated. It is our belief that you must retreat to open the door for a life of spiritual discipline.
If you have gone through this series and want to see your life, the life of your friends, family, and community live the Christian life faithfully, I encourage you to join us at Post-Christian Era. Our goal is to simply be a resource for local Christian communities to reach the commitment to the Christian faith that God has called us to.
For more information on this type of response to the Post-Christian era, I recommend reading Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option to see these ideas fleshed out in real-life examples.